The fuck did I just watch? This certainly felt like at least two or three stories welded together. It all started off so promisingly, with lots of beautiful model work and yet another appearance from Bronson off of Grange Hill. I loved that opening episode, with The Doctor fighting the infection, and Leela having to fight single-handedly against the ever-expanding ranks of virus carriers. They seemed like a proper scary threat, that looked impossible to beat.
This carried on into the next episode, but then all of a sudden the notion of cloning was haphazardly introduced, and the next thing you know it’s a Fantastic Voyage knock off. I got completely lost for a while. I mean, the plot isn’t very complex or anything, but it’s not terribly well executed, and information is presented in a deeply confusing way. The trip through the Doctor’s brain was nowhere near as fun as it could have been, and when they met the nucleus, the visual effects failed to get across what was happening – I had to look it up afterwards to figure out who had died and how.
So then the virus turned into a giant prawn and started hobbling about like a little old lady, so I just tried to go with the flow. It was all just about fine – nothing groundbreaking, but nothing too terrible. And then there’s K-9. I’ve been really looking forward to this. I’ve seen plenty of him in the modern series and the spin-offs, but I’ve never really been clear on how he’d work as a regular companion. If I’m honest I’m still none the wiser, but hey, this was his introductory story, so he’s not part of the furniture just yet.
He did feel a bit tacked on in places, but they did a fantastic job of making him both formidable and likable right from the start. It’s clear that the tone of the show is lightening, and the scariness turned down a notch. If that manifests itself as a surreal dream-like episode turning out like this rather than The Deadly Assassin, then that’s a big shame. But if it means we’ve got a silly little robot dog whizzing around solving problems and being adorable, bring it on.
And yes, the contrast in production design from last time is striking, as I sort of semi-predicted/hoped. We’re back in the bright space stations that I associate with both latter day Pertwee, and the various bits I’ve seen on the show in the 80s, which is fine by me. What we lose in atmosphere, we make up for with little touches like all the signs being written in a futuristic simplified version of English – never referenced by any of the characters, but there for all to see thanks to lovely bright studio lights. And yes, I am very glad that the proper console room is back. I didn’t hate the wooden one, but it wasn’t the console room, was it?
Oh, and for the second serial in a row, I found myself thinking of Father Ted. God, they’re very hairy hands all together, aren’t they? I think this could be a stage six.